macroafricaintel | Tillerson in Africa

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Hours before American secretary of state Rex Tillerson was scheduled to land in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main political rival, Raila Odinga, held a press conference in which they vowed to mend fences and work together. This was the first time they would meet since a bitter election dispute that started almost 7 months ago. Hitherto, Mr Tillerson’s 5-nation Africa trip, which started this week, was written off as one focused on security and not necessarily concerned with other cogent issues germane to helping Africa move ahead. The five countries Mr Tillerson is visiting, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria, have been grappling with one security issue or the other. Even so, African countries would also be interested in knowing whether they need worry about a negative surprise from the Donald Trump administration in regard of American trade policy; in light of its recent import tariffs on aluminium and steel. How much of a factor Mr Tillerson’s imminent arrival in Kenya was in getting President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga together remains to be seen. But after their public reconciliation today, all the negative headlines about Kenya, most of which were related to their caustic political standoff, have become largely irrelevant. They said the right words. And their body language suggested they were being sincere. Needless to say, it is a very positive development. Of course, there remains the issue of the worrying indebtedness of the Kenyan fiscal authorities and so on.

Look beyond security
Mr Tillerson’s visit is also opportune for Ethiopia, currently in transition and under a suspect state of emergency, as prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn takes a bow. The American foreign minister did not pull his punches upon arrival there, asserting that what Ethiopia needed at this time was a freer society. How much of an impact his words would have also remains to be seen. But judging from recent political developments, the ruling Tigray elite have little choice but to allow for a more representative government. And considering Ethiopia is still largely aid-dependent, Mr Tillerson’s remarks could be differential. The American foreign minister is also expected in Abuja in a few days. It would be the most high profile visit by an American official to Nigeria in recent times. Nigerians, who were more than a tad disappointed that former American president Barack Obama did not deem it fit to stop by, would nonetheless be looking forward to Mr Tillerson’s visit. Incidentally, he would be arriving at a time when the recent abduction of more than hundred school girls in Dapchi, northeastern Nigeria, is still fresh in their memories. I suppose they would want to ask him if America made an offer of assistance to the Muhammadu Buhari adminstration like it did the Goodluck Jonathan government for the Chibok girls. Other African countries would love to get a sense of American policy on their issues as well. South Africans have been a little taken aback for not being on Mr Tillerson’s itinerary, for instance. The American view of the new Cyril Ramaphosa administration’s land expropriation without compensation policy is one some nervous market participants would be interested in. When asked about the matter at a conference call ahead of Mr Tillerson’s trip, acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs Donald Yamamoto did not give a definite view.

Competing for influence
In light of the foregoing, there is a risk of overestimating the influence of the Americans in Africa. They are not as important as they once were. Mr Tillerson has certainly shown a realism in this regard. In fact, the focus of his first speech in Addis Ababa was preponderantly focused on China’s now enviable hold on the continent. He mentions the growing indebtedness of African countries to China, in particular; cautioning them not to sell their sovereignty away. Coming from the Americans, who through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were once similarly overbearing on African politics and policy, and perhaps still are, it seemed a little uncanny. But it speaks to the concern of the Americans about the Chinese. Already, the Americans plan to clarify from China in a meeting scheduled for the spring what their operational military goals in Africa are. That meeting, if it holds, would likely be dominated by Chinese military activities in Djibouti. In February, Djibouti terminated its contract with Dubai’s DP World for the management of Doraleh Container Terminal at the Djibouti port. American intelligence has it on good standing that the Chinese, who already have a military base in the country, would likely be gifted the port; with potentially “significant” consequences for American military operations in the country. Incidentally, Mr Tillerson’s Africa trip coincided with a similar one by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. While in Ethiopia, Mr Lavrov and Mr Tillerson stayed in the same hotel but did not meet. Before arriving in Addis Ababa, Mr Lavrov was in Harare to meet President Emmerson Mnangagwa to agree military and mineral deals. The Americans have more than the Chinese to worry about, it seems.

macroafricaintel | South Africa: Mugabe 2.0

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa cleared his diary for Friday and the day after (10-11 February), his office announced. Of course, the events of interest were those that related to his duties as president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and not as deputy leader of the Republic. As preparations are afoot to celebrate the Nelson Mandela centenary (#Mandela100) on Sunday (11 February), Mr Ramaphosa was slated to attend buildup events on these days. So what was so pressing that would prevent the party president from attending what are quite important party events, you likely wonder. Hold that thought a moment. Not too long after, the party announced its senior officials would also not be participating in the #Mandela100 buildup programmes. I have your attention now, don’t I? Well, I would, if you have not been similarly following the twists and turns around the push to get South African president Jacob Zuma to resign from office. But if you have, you probably now hope Mr Ramaphosa would not prove to be spineless yet again. The supposedly savvy party leader would probably take great exception to this characterisation. But quite frankly, people are beginning to get impatient with what seems like a limited sense of urgency on his part. This is my sentiment, of course. Like the frustratingly nail-biting wait that presaged the resignation of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, the South African “transition” is turning out to be similarly intriguing. I do not mean that in a complimentary manner.

Little reprieve
In my BusinessDay column ahead of the earlier scheduled 8 February State of the Nation Address (SONA) titled: “Dirty Zuma exit fight inevitable” (see link viz., I wondered what leverage Mr Ramaphosa would have left if he were to allow Mr Zuma deliver what is perhaps the most important speech in the political calendar. I thought it would make nonsense of the new party leadership’s talk of a “new era”, for sure. They thought so too, it seems; not that it was not already palpable to anyone with half a brain. Attributing a need to ensure decorum at this year’s SONA, in light of disruptions by opposition MPs in the recent past ones, parliament speaker Baleka Mbete announced a postponement two days before the earlier scheduled date of 8 February. Of course, all and sundry knew the real reason for the postponement. Mr Ramaphosa needed time to put pressure on Mr Zuma to vacate office. A planned meeting of the party’s executives, which had it held, would have almost certainly called for Mr Zuma’s recall, was also shelved. Why not just recall him and go ahead with SONA on 8 February, some wondered. It was suggested that perhaps Mr Ramaphosa was being mindful of likely ethnic-based violence in Kwazulu-Natal, where Mr Zuma hails from, in the aftermath of a rash recall decision.

Incidentally, the South African Communist Party (SACP), an ally of the ANC and member of its tripartite alliance, alleged Mr Zuma planned to fire Mr Ramaphosa as deputy president; a move he would have needed to make before what would have been a recall decision by the party executives at their shelved meeting. A vociferous denial by the president’s office of any such plans only added to the strength of the SACP’s scoop. This is because in the past, when the presidency denied so-called rumours and speculations, there usually came a time not long after, when what was hitherto a denied “rumour” suddenly became policy. Just like that. There is a recent example. A while back, there were reports the government-run pension fund for public workers would finance a bailout for loss-making power utility, Eskom. Although the possibility was not totally ruled out, the impression given by the finance ministry was that such a contemplation was simply in the light of brainstorming about financing options for the ailing utility. Now under better management, the treasury probably supposed it would not cause much uproar if it went ahead this time around. I do not want to focus overmuch on Eskom and the clearly sub-optimal allocation of public pension funds to it; about $8.3 billion in total now. But you certainly get the point about how “rumours” about Mr Zuma’s plans, no matter how outrageous, should be taken seriously. It was believed Mr Zuma would have replaced Mr Ramaphosa with his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who incidentally challenged the deputy president for the party leader post. It needs pointing out here, though, that the Zimbabwean parallel does not extend to Ms Dlamini-Zuma: unlike Grace Mugabe, she is very accomplished and a party grandee in her own right; having been minister and chairperson of the African Union Commission in the past.

Do it now
In light of the foregoing and what we know about Mr Zuma, imagine one’s surprise that Mr Ramaphosa seems not to be aware of his vulnerability. In his most recent press release, he acknowledges a “transition” is ongoing but does not indicate when it would be finalised. Some say the delay is because Mr Zuma desires immunity from prosecution. Considering Mr Ramaphosa has ruled out granting his erstwhile principal a ‘get out of jail free’ card, especially as he may not necessarily have the power to do so, it begs the question of what is really responsible for the protracted exit process. Worryingly, the longer it takes to get Mr Zuma out of office, the weaker Mr Ramaphosa looks and in fact becomes. Because unlike the Zimbabwean case, he does not have an army to force Mr Zuma’s hands. Additionally, he does not yet have the full command of the ANC party structure. With Mr Zuma still able to make last ditch efforts to buy support and in fact delay for longer Mr Ramaphosa’s accession to the country’s presidency by exercising his constitutional powers to hire and fire any member of his government, the ANC president seems bizarrely relaxed. Mr Ramaphosa should pick up the pace.

macroafricaintel | African politics takes a positive turn

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Not long after the news that the Zimbabwean military had put former president Robert Mugabe under house arrest, Uganda’s longtime leader, Yoweri Museveni, made changes to the leadership of his army. Coincidence? Not really. Even though there are reports of foreign support for the recent military takeover in Zimbabwe, it could not have been carried out without the support of the army chief General Constantino Chiwenga. Probably realising this, Mr Museveni decided he had better put someone “reliable” in the post. He did not stop there. Afterwards, he signalled he would be looking to raise the salaries of “soldiers, public servants, health workers and teachers…”. (See how soldiers come first.) The real question then becomes what the chances are that what happened in Zimbabwe may soon happen in Uganda, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, or Cameroon; where other longtime leaders and/or their children preside. In Togo, for instance, there are continued protests demanding President Faure Gnassingbe, who succeeded his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, resign or at least not seek another term when his current third 5-year stint expires. In Cameroon, the only major challenge to Paul Biya’s almost 35-year rule is probably something he would be able to resolve easily: Anglophones want better treatment and representation. So they are not so much challenging him as they are really just seeking a better life. And in Equatorial Guinea, where vice-president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, another sit-tight leader, only just got prosecuted for corruption in France, there is little or no sign the ruling family would give up the reins of power anytime soon. In fact, in recent legislative and municipal elections, the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) won almost 100 percent of the vote. In Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ case, however, he had the good sense to quit while he was still ahead. Of course, his successor, Joao Lourenco, has moved swiftly to consolidate power, firing Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s powerful daughter, and replacing the police and intelligence chiefs; all barely two months into his presidency.

Love potion
In determining who might be ousted amongst the remaining longtime rulers on the African continent, it would help to consider what triggered that which happened in Zimbabwe. Firstly, Mr Mugabe decided to put his wife in his place; a woman with no credentials other then she shared a bed with him. In an African context, there could not be a more infuriating development in what is still largely a patriarchal society. Incidentally, just some kilometres away, in neighbouring South Africa, embattled President Jacob Zuma desires that his ex-wife takes his place in the elective conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in December. In her case, at least, she is well-educated, has apartheid struggle credentials, and has served as minister and most recently as chair of the African Union (AU) commission; to mention a few. But for her surname, being that well-credentialled and experienced makes her fit for the job. And to have kept the name of her ex-husband suggests she is likely still fond of the wily Zulu man. Even so, Mr Zuma could probably still pull it off. But her rival for the top job, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, is leading in support at the party branches and would barring an act of God, likely become ANC president come December. Secondly, Mr Mugabe fired his major pillar of support hitherto, former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa (who is now set to become president). Thereafter, the powerful clique of army generals, war veterans and grandees in the ruling ZANU-PF party that hitherto enabled him decided they had had enough.

Sun must set
The remaining old men still lording over their people on the continent are not necessarily susceptible to Mr Mugabe’s folly. Mr Museveni perhaps shares his weakness, though. His fondness for his wife, Janet Museveni, who he appointed to the education ministry in June 2016, is well known: when a sharp-tongued female academic disparaged her, he made an example of her. Besides, he has appointed his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, whose sharp rise in the military he facilitated, as one of his special advisers. Time will tell. A potentially good thing to come out of the Mugabe debacle, though, is that these longtime and oft-insensitive African rulers might begin to be more empathetic and caring of their country men and women. Not that it would come from the bottom of their hearts. No matter. They will all soon die.